Welcome to the Moral Imagination Podcast.

The overarching theme of my podcast is what it means to be a human person and what makes for a meaningful and good life.

At the center of this are topics of philosophy of the human person, culture, religion and social philosophy. I am also interested in a wide range of topics including education and learning, economics, food, technology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, decentralization, localism, intellectual history, and literature so those topics will come up as well. My goal is to interact with ideas and people whose work I find challenging, and intellectually and socially important.

What is Moral Imagination?

The term moral imagination comes from the social philosopher, Edmund Burke. He worried that the radical empiricism and the reductionism of the Enlightenment would undermine the most important elements of our human nature. It would empty the “wardrobe of our moral imagination” and in the name of rationality remove the very things that make us human.

Another theme of this podcast is wrestling the the challenge of philosophical materialism, which is in many ways the dominant idea of our time. By materialism I don’t simply mean excessive acquisition of material goods, but philosophical materialism that dominates our educational and cultural institutions. This is the idea that matter is all there is and that the soul and non-material things are myths. This includes among other things the denial of free will, the reduction of our deepest emotions to biological the analogy of seeing man as a machine or a computer.

Materialism and empiricist rationality take the most fundamental human experiences—love, joy, hope, friendship, justice, compassion, mercy, grief, and forgiveness and relegate them outside the realm of reason. Since they are no longer reasonable ,the deep human emotions. experience reduced to either radically subjective ephemeral feelings with no connection to the outside world or increasingly to biological and neurological phenomena.

Yet, with reflection this doesn’t resonate with our lived experiences. Take love for example. While there are powerful biological and neurological influences in our experience of love— we are embodied persons—anyone who has ever been deeply in love knows that it can’t be reduced to biology. Love is a fully human experience that includes reason, will, the emotions, the body, and the heart.

The limiting of reason, the suspicion of tradition, feeling, and noble ideas —what Burke called the emptying of the wardrobe of moral imagination is meant to enthrone reason. But what actually happens is the opposite. A constricted notion of reason ends up making us less reasonable. What’s more it robs us of our patrimony and shrinks our humanity. It creates what C.S. Lewis called “men without chests.” Rather than freeing us from sentimentality or false emotions, materialism and limited rationality makes us more susceptible to them, and I would argue more susceptible to ideology.

Philosophy vs. Ideology

One of my hopes with this podcast is to be philosophical not ideological.

I think that truth exists and that we can know it. But this doesn’t mean that we necessarily do. We make mistakes all the time. We all have blind spots— both intellectual and moral.

Philosophy–from philo and sophos–is the love of wisdom and the pursuit of truth. The opposite of a philosophical attitude in an ideological mindset. Rather than “conforming the mind to reality” as St. Thomas Aquinas defines truth, ideology instead tries to conform reality to the mind of the ideologue.

To be be philosophical is a difficult task especially in the current intellectual climate. The world is very complex and there are often no simple answers —as a professor of mine once put it—reality comes from God’s mind and philosophical language comes from ours. Thus no single philosophy will exhaust all of reality.

I do not agree with everything my guests say, and they surely don’t agree with everything I say—nor do they agree with or endorse one another. Sometimes I will push them, sometimes not so much. The goal is to have a good conversation so that we all can learn and hopefully think more deeply.

 Themes of the Podcast

As noted key theme of the podcast is philosophical anthropology. What does it mean to be a human person?  This includes topics such as

  • The nature of reason

  • The nature of freedom

  • Consciousness

  • Embodiment

  • Emotions

  • Art and creativity

It also includes culture and social philosophy. What are the conditions that help individuals, families, and communities live will. This includes themes as diverse as

  • Religion

  • Sociology

  • Education and learning

  • Decentralization and Localism

  • Food

  • Agriculture

  • Technology

  • Health

In a lecture I give on the moral imagination I set out a number of things we can do to help build the moral imagination and escape the constricted vision of materialism and Enlightenment rationalism that Burke, Lewis, and others critiqued. I hope to address many of these themes in episodes of the podcast.

  • The importance of Good Stories

  • Rehabilitate and Expand Reason

  • The Need for Detox & to Sensitize Ourselves to Good and Evil

  • Escape the Analogy of the Machine

  • Truth and Authentic Subjectivity

  • Recover the Objective & Subjective Dimensions of Beauty

  • Sanctify Worship

  • Rehabilitate the Heart: Cultivate Reasonable Emotions

  • Respect Language

  • Strengthen Civil Society and Community

  • Build Plausibility Structures

  • Refine Manners

  • Go Outside

  • Cultivate Silence

  • Observe Rest

These are broad themes but I hope they all all relate and connect to the nature of the person and to a rebuilding of the moral imagination.

A Couple of Caveats

I am a Catholic and my faith plays a central role in my view of the world and will clearly influence this show. There is no such thing a perfectly neutral position. Secularism is not neutral. It has clear assumptions and presuppositions. So do I, and I want to be clear about my view of the world.

But this is not a Catholic podcast. Not all my guests are Catholic. I’ll have Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Jews, and non-believers on the show and I hope Catholics and non-Catholics will find it profitable.

Finally. This is my personal podcast. In my full time job I am a Senior Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. This is not an Acton podcast and is not officially endorsed by or reflective of the views of the Acton Institute.

However, because I like Acton and believe in what Acton does, there will be some overlap, but many of the topics and ideas go far beyond the mission of the Acton Institute.

This podcast is part of my intellectual lifelong interest in the mystery of what it means to be a human person. I hope you find it worthwhile. If so please subscribe and  share it with friends and family. And let me know topics you’d like to hear discussed or people to interview. Thanks!

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Michael Matheson Milller